The Los Angeles Rams defeated the Cincinnati Bengals 23-20 Sunday evening, earning the right to lift the Lombardi trophy as champions of Super Bowl LVI. Perhaps it is because of my irrational affection for the Green Bay Packers, but it appeared a ho-hum game for much of the 60 minutes. That said, interspersed between the short runs, dropped passes, and punts (seven in a row in the second half), were flashes of beauty.
The Rams scored first, with a splendid pass to Odell Beckham Jr. Unfortunately for the viewing public, OBJ would leave the field with a knee injury in the 2nd quarter, depriving the Rams of a WR who could capitalize on the attention given to Cooper Kupp. While the Rams would score twice more, it was an ugly effort to find the end zone, as the depth at wide receiver was abysmal. The Rams’ quarterback Matt Stafford was intercepted twice on passes that were either prematurely abandoned or flew from receivers’ hands.
The Bengals’ offensive efforts were stymied most by the brilliant play of the Rams’ front seven (the big fellas, linebackers and linemen). Leading that group was two of the best defensive players of the age, Aaron Donald and Von Miller. They and their cohort swarmed, swaddled, and sacked the Bengals’ quarterback Joe Burrow for seven sacks and nigh-innumerable pressures. The Ram’s defenders overmatched the Bengals’ linemen on nearly every play, with multiple drives throttled by a mob of Rams rumbling into the backfield.
The Bengals finagled quick passes and run plays to counter the Rams’ aggression, with occasional shots down the field when the Rams were on their heels. Rams cornerback Jalen Ramsey was picked on several times, getting burned for a touchdown on the first play of the second half. Reviewing that play later, it was evident that Tee Higgins may have “adjusted Ramsey’s facemask” a touch, but the refs were deferential to allowing the game to progress without yellow flags flying hither and yon. That is until they weren’t.
Super Bowl LVI will be most remembered for two things: Aaron Donald stumping the Bengals’ final push to the end zone and referees taking a sudden interest in the game’s final minutes. In what, according to Donald, could have been his last season — unknown, as of yet — he smothered any hope for a rally the Bengals had. A generational talent held it down, and if you like defense, Donald’s play throughout was like watching Mozart perform on a thundercloud — extraordinary and otherworldly.
What grates most about those final minutes was the repeated calls in the Rams’ favor, allowing them six chances at the end zone, with four of those chances being first downs. The Rams finally connected, with Stafford finding Kupp — the game’s eventual MVP — but it was a hollow touchdown given how many opportunities they were allowed. While I think the Rams are the better team, it was an embittering series that diminished an otherwise enjoyable game. With a touch too much scotch in me as the final score read “Rams 23, Bengals 20,” it felt like the game was just the right length.
The hush of anticipation comes next for Wisconsin residents, as the Packers and Aaron Rodgers deliberate over his future with the Packers. To keep him, we’ll need to mortgage the farm, the cow and half of Lake Michigan. However, to let him leave means an uncertainty at quarterback we’ve not experienced in my lifetime. The Rams sold their souls — assuming owner Stan Kroenke still had one to offer — for this Super Bowl win, giving away anything not nailed down to their tax-break benefited accommodations. Will the Packers likewise spend future funds, draft picks and years of recovery for one or two more years of playoff-caliber quarterback play? Probably. But that’s an article for another day.